Teach Us How To Pray

Teach Us How To Pray

prayer (prer) noun: prayer; plural noun: prayers

  • a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship. “I’ll say a prayer for him”
    synonyms: invocation, intercession, devotion; archaicorison “the priest’s murmured prayers”
  • a religious service, especially a regular one, at which people gather in order to pray together. “500 people were detained as they attended Friday prayers”
  • an earnest hope or wish. “it is our prayer that the current progress on human rights will be sustained”

Origin – Middle English: from Old French preiere, based on Latin precarius ‘obtained by entreaty,’ from prex, prec- ‘prayer.’

Recently, I came to two realizations:

#1:  When called upon to spontaneously lead corporate prayer in any setting, I am prone to become like a deer in the headlights. It isn’t because I don’t pray enough. I have a “pray without ceasing” monologue running in my mind every waking hour (and I mean that literally; mentally talking to God while doing just about anything else is the only “multi-tasking” I do successfully … and, yes, I do listen for the answers).  The corporate prayers I offer while leading worship services are carefully crafted in advance. But, I need to do some serious work on my ability to lead spontaneous, extemporaneous corporate prayer. Public prayer does not roll easily off my tongue. Prayer is, so far, far too personal an experience.

#2:  I have a serious problem with a certain televangelist’s “National Day of Prayer” corporate prayer rallies. I believe it’s the wrong way to lead your congregants in prayer because it’s praying for the political agenda of the prayer leader rather than praying that God’s will – whatever that will may be – be done, that you to be given the strength to accept that will, and that it does not meet the criteria of “do no harm”. Too often what I read from that certain televangelist is both hate-filled and promoting harm to others. I think both it and he are major contributors to the hijacking and destruction of Christian faith in America. It ultimately leads to the worship of nation over God.

When I’m struggling with something, I start researching for solutions, answers, and explanations.

There are 222 prayers in the Bible. Actual prayers, not just references to prayer; 176 in the Old Testament and 46 in the New Testament. If you throw in references to and mentions of prayer (“he prayed, he entreated the Lord, he called upon the name of the Lord”, etc.), you can add another 428. There are 450 recorded answers to prayer in the Bible. The first mention of prayer is in Genesis 4:26, there are 25 different records of Jesus praying during his earthly ministry, and Paul mentions prayer (prayers, prayer reports, prayer requests, exhortations to pray) 41 times.

Prayer is clearly one of the most important things we can do, and it’s also the most powerful of our spiritual tools.  Samuel was taught to hear the voice of God, and to pray, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10) Jesus made a habit of spending the early hours of each day praying alone in a solitary place (Mark 1:35), and even planned a retreat with his disciples following a particularly strenuous period of fruitful ministry (Mark 6:31).  In the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18), Jesus taught the disciples to pray and not give up. Jesus even gave his disciples an example of how to pray and gave them the prayer we know as “The Lord’s Prayer”. (Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:1-4).  And Paul taught us, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t!” (Romans 8:25-27).

The Bible gives us all kinds of instructions on how to pray …

It lists at least nine main types of prayer:

  • Prayers of faith (James 5:15)
  • Prayers of agreement aka “corporate prayer” (Acts 2:42)
  • Prayers of request aka petition or supplication (Philippians 4:6)
  • Prayers of thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2-3)
  • Prayers of worship (Acts 13:2-3)
  • Prayers of consecration aka dedication (Matthew 26:39)
  • Prayers of intercession (1 Timothy 2:1)
  • Prayers of imprecation* (Psalms 69)
  • Praying in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:14-15)*Imprecation means a spoken curse; to pray the Imprecatory Psalm or a prayer of imprecation today would be to go against Christ, who commanded us to love one another, our enemies, and those who persecute us. Cursing our enemies is not loving them.

It even tells us about five specific postures we can assume during our prayers: Sitting (2 Samuel 7:18), standing (Mark 11:25), kneeling (Chronicles 6:13; Daniel 6:10; Luke 22:41; Acts 7:60, 9:40, 20:36, 21:5; Ephesians 3:14), prostrate (literally with one’s face to the ground; Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:35), and with hands uplifted (1 Timothy 2:8).

And, the Lord’s Prayer – the model Jesus gave for how his disciples should pray – breaks down into six key focuses; an outline if you will of what to cover during prayer:

  • Honor God’s name and everlasting glory: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
  • Call for His kingdom and eternal will:  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven
  • Ask for His provision (He will provide):  Give us each day our daily bread
  • Ask for His forgiveness (God always forgives, but we must also forgive others): Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
  • Ask for His protection:  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil 
  • Honor His authority and providence:  For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever 

Finally, the Bible tells us how to end our prayers.  The word “Amen” translates to “Let it be”, “so be it”, “verily,” and/or “truly”, and first appears in Numbers 5:22 where God commands it to be said by a person who is yielding to His examination.

Prayer was essential to, in fact the essence of Christ’s relationship with the Father.  He prayed regularly (Luke 5:16; Luke records more instances of Jesus praying than any other Gospel writer), and he often prayed alone (Mark 1:35; Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12, 9:18).  He prayed in communion with or submission to his Father (communion: Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2; Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22 / submission: Hebrews 5:7; Matthew 6;10, 26:36; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42), giving his Father praise and thanks (Matthew 11:25-26; Luke 10:21; Matthew 14:19; Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16; John 6:11; Matthew 15:36; Mark 8:6-7; Matthew 26:26-27; Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:17-19; 1 Corinthians 11:24; the Lord’s Supper; Luke 24:30; John 11:41-42). He prayed at his baptism (Luke 6:12-13), before choosing the apostles (Luke 9:28-29), before his transfiguration, before his death (Matthew 26:36-46); Mark 14:32-41; Luke 22:39-46; John 17:1-26), and on the cross (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 23:34,46; Luke 3:21-22).

He taught about prayer (Matthew 6:9-15; Luke 11:2-4; Matthew 5:44; Matthew 6:-8; Luke 6:28; Luke 18:1-8,9-14; Luke 21:36).

He prayed for children (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17), for his disciples (Luke 22:31-32; John 14:16; John 17:6-19), for his persecutors (Luke 23:34), for himself (John 12:27-28; John 17:1-5), and for all believers (John 17:20-26).

He continues to pray for all God’s children (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1).

He had some important points to make about prayer, too:

Matthew 6:5-8 – “5 And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

And, he had his reasons; Prayer is designed as the way we “draw near to God” (James 4:8).  It helps us deepen our personal relationship with God and, in order to do that, we must spend daily, concentrated time praying to God privately … one-on-one.

This isn’t to say there aren’t times when praying in public – in front of and audible to others – is appropriate.  Public prayer is totally appropriate at family meals, as part of worship service, at weddings and at funerals. But it is to say there are right and wrong ways to pray, and that’s where my realizations land:  I want to pray in the right way and there are some like that certain televangelist who I feel not only pray in a very wrong way, they encourage others to join them; they abuse the “prayers of agreement” and appear to be promoting “prayers of imprecation”.

It makes sense that the origin of the word, “prayer”, comes from precarious. From Merriam-Webster’s website:

“This little happiness is so very precarious, that it wholly depends on the will of others. Joseph Addison, in a 1711 issue of Spectator magazine, couldn’t have described the oldest sense of precarious more precisely-the original meaning of the word was “depending on the will or pleasure of another.” Prayers and entreaties directed at that “other” might or might not help, but what precariousness really hangs on, in the end, is prex, the Latin word for prayer. From prex came the Latin word precarius, meaning “obtained by entreaty,” from whence came our own adjective precarious. Anglo-French priere, also from precarius, gave us prayer.”

Prayer can certainly be precarious – requiring and depending upon the will or pleasure of another (God). And oh, how it must pain Him, when our prayers are selfish, hate-filled, or (even unintentionally) harmful to others.  Praying an petition to God that represents more a partisan political agenda based on falsehoods, myths, and misinformation and/or that petitions God for actions you [have to] know would cause harm to others … that’s just wrong. Period. If you don’t believe me, though, consider the wisdom of Mark Twain who wrote the War Prayer.

As I understand and interpret the scriptures, the only “national” or even “international” prayer agenda of the Church should be that agenda contained in the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Thy [God’s] will, not my will, not your will, not some televangelist’s will, and certainly not some earthly ruler’s will.  All that we do including prayer is to be done in a spirit of love. All. Partisan politics are rarely reflective of anything similar to love. That makes, in my opinion, the televangelist’s ulterior motive not only suspect, but very probably anti-Christ.

I don’t ever want to be anti-Christ, so I take prayer and praying seriously, and that means I hesitate to offer extemporaneous corporate prayers that may ask for certain (my own or that of others) selfish outcomes. My heart is true to God, but sometimes my head and mouth speak without consulting my heart or waiting for the guidance of the Spirit.

And so, I find the words to Jason Upton’s “Teach Me to Pray” a good example of my mission in my quest to learn to pray well:

Not my will or my plans or
The way I want it
I’m so tired of my hands in the way
So reveal to these eyes the true heart of my Father, today
Lord teach me how to pray

So I’ll keep asking, for Your kingdom to come
Looking, for Your will to be done
For every nation, tribe,
And every tongue
Lord, teach me how to pray

My goal is to learn to pray for God’s will first, foremost and always above – instead of – my own.  My goal is to learn to trust that God provides. My goal is to reduce my wants and increase my thanksgiving.  Lord, teach me how to pray Thy will, not my will.

My goal as a future pastor is to teach my congregation to pray for God’s will first, foremost and only, to submit to His authority, and to pray only out of love for one another.  I can’t go the direction of that certain televangelist and his “National Day of Prayer”, and if I can’t go that direction I certainly cannot lead anyone that direction.

Lord, teach us how to pray Thy will, not our will.


 In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, amen.